Vintage: 20 Things They Used To Teach Kids In School

As a '90s baby myself, it's hard for me to imagine what schools are like today. I don't want to sound like my grandparents, but "back in my day" we had computer class, learned cursive, and were taught how to tell time with the analog clock (among other things). These days, kids use electronic clocks to tell time, have computers or tablets in each room, and teachers are nixing the whole cursive thing. There's been a lot of changes in the past 20 years and even more in the past 100.

It was an entirely different world back in the 18-1900s. Schools were just one room with different age groups, taught by one teacher. Throughout the years, curriculum changed dramatically, mainly focusing around the possibilities and difficulties of their time. From practicing drills in case of emergencies, to learning Greek, to using instruments that can't be found in today's classrooms, our education system has changed dramatically.

Similarly, however, teachers were all certified in their own way and schooling differed depending on the state. Kids were also not always promised an education. Thankfully, many children today have the opportunity to study, learn, and eventually have a higher education, instead of focusing on farm work and preparing for war. But it's safe to say times sure have changed in the past 100 years.

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20 Memorizing

Many teachers today use memorizing games as a mental exercise. These games can help children focus and hopefully use this to their advantage when studying or in conversation. However, back in the day, teachers didn't necessarily use games to help children with memorization; they made kids memorize the entire lesson...

"Lessons mainly compromised of memorizing key facts or sums or spellings, with rows of children all reciting and tested regularly," 

Fractus Learning explains. At the end of the school day, each student had to recite the day's lesson in front of the entire class and were graded on how well they remembered/explained it. After one student did it, the next in line would follow suit. This way, the students learned the same lesson time and time again from different voices. If a student did not remember correctly, punishments or poor grades were given.

19 Emergency Drills


As bad as it is that this is still a thing, kids used to worry about atomic threats. For those living in the Atomic Age (around the '40s), the possibility of an alarming situation at any given moment—in state—was a real concern for all involved. Although the likes of coming out of such an event unscathed are slim to none, teachers rehearsed with students to prepare them. One student remembered their teacher giving them gas masks and practicing the "duck and roll" drill, to protect themselves from the glass windows.

From Fukushima to Chernobyl to testing, it was a trying time for all families.

18 Gender Roles

Home economics and woodwork classes used to be specific to gender. It was typically women who learned how to run the household, while men were learning how to build the actual home. But 2018 is all about equality; it's no longer the woman woman who cooks dinner or the man who supports the family. Both men and women have equal parts in the home, which is really beautiful.

Prior to the '60s, women were expected to dress and act in a certain way in school, as were boys. Anything done outside of their gender role was deemed unacceptable.

Imagine being punished for doing something unladylike.

17 The Farmer's Almanac

Back in the 1800s, students could only go to school if it was within a four to five mile distance from where they walked. That distance was deemed "walkable" by the schooling system. However, once a child reached the eighth grade, that was typically where they stopped. At that age they had to focus more on the farm or helping out with the family business. Since so many people lived off the land and made money doing so, learning the basics of farm life was essential.

The almanac is typically a manual that predicts the weather, tips, and tricks for the following year. It helped you know what to expect environmentally and perhaps what crops to focus on.

16 Religion

In the early '60s, schools decided to end the religious tradition of having school prayers. Likewise, if you wanted your child to continue praying and learning more about religion, you had to enroll them in a religious school of your choice.

Considering how many different beliefs and religions there are in 2018, a public school forcing students to pray or learn the Bible would never fly.

If a student wanted to learn more about God and the like, there are plenty of after school programs, Sunday schools, and private schools they can attend. Prior to the '60s, students would often have bible readings with the whole class, along with discussions on verses.

15 Public Discipline

Public discipline is definitely a no-no in 2018. In fact, making a display of it is so bad that bullying is one of the biggest problems in schools today.

Teachers didn't necessarily teach students how to be rude to others, but when they were acting up and not doing what they were told, there were a few disciplinary actions that were put in place. Education NE reminds us that the Dunce Cap was a very popular form of discipline. "This was a method teachers used to [humble] their students when they had misbehaved in the 1800’s. It was an odd looking cone shaped cap normally made out of paper, that was marked with a 'D' or the word 'Dunce.'" And in case anyone didn't know, dunce was another word for "idiot."

14 Greek

Depending on the country, most students studied Greek in schools.

Elders believed Victorian men should focus on business affairs and being a gentleman, and apparently learning Greek and its philosophies was a part of that.

Now, students definitely learn a variety of languages today, but they have a choice in what language they want to learn; they're not forced to specifically learn Greek. The University of Michigan noted how "it was generally thought preferable to have a young man educated in the home until he was ready to attend a university. Tutors were either parish incumbents or young men leaving college. They were paid well and treated with respect. Tutors taught reading, writing, Greek and math." (Having the option to be home schooled over public school was often more common.)

13 Servants

The 18th century truly was another world. Many higher households had servants, and families who were privileged enough to have a school nearby had their children educated by the state. Part of their curriculum was actually learning how to interact with their servants.

Though slavery was banned in the 1860s, many students learned the hierarchy of servants, what they're expected to do, and the business of, well, owning servants. From cooks to nannies to maids, students (mainly young men) were taught the ins and outs of running their home like a small business. Thankfully, slavery is long gone in many countries and people only nanny, cook, or take care of the home if they want to.

12 Home Economics

I learned home economics when I was in middle school. There was a point where you would alternate between tech classes and home eco. to learn different trades. While many schools still have tech classes, home economics seems to be a thing of the past.

We would learn how to sew, how to cook, and how to essentially run a home. We learned all about kitchen safety, we were graded on our chocolate chip cookies, and we had to make our own pillows as the final exam. Looking back on it, home economics was really fun (and a breeze if you paid attention), but learning how to cook or sew doesn't seem to be on a student's radar anymore.

11 Preparing For The Reality Of The Time

It was a trying time for children living in the early 1900s and '40s. In a time of depression and war, students who continued going to school were considered lucky. Most boys went off to war while the women had to take care of things back home (along with wounded soldiers).

In the '40s, after a surprise emergency situation in Pearl Harbor, schools became more focused around preparing students for war and its industries than on math, geography, and the alike.

Winning was all that mattered to the country, and their curriculum changed with the times.

Post war, the curriculum changed again to keep up with their new life. Kids today, however, aren't taught what to do in case such a situation. Instead, they typically join ROTC or join the military to do their part.

10 Slideruler

In the '90s, Texas Instruments graphing calculators were all the rage. They were like, $200 and were required in high math classes (which was unfair to many students who simply couldn't afford them). But these days there are many students who don't need calculators in classes anymore (they have their phones). Back in the '50s and '60s though, calculators were very much needed, as were sliderulers. The Quad defines a slideruler as "a standard learning tool for mathematics (not to mention architecture, engineering, and a wide range of other technical fields). Its sliding central strip and logarithmic scales enabled the user to quickly execute multiplication and division calculations."

Sliderulers may not be popular anymore but if you have one lying around the house, it's still going to do its job!

9 The Card Catalog

Once schools became larger than one room, libraries were added as a one-stop-shop for those needing books.

However, this was a time before computers, so students had to use the card catalog system in order to find the book they needed.

The Quad explains how there was typically a room filled with drawers "containing thousands of meticulously alphabetized cards," where students had to scroll through to see if the book they needed was available. "The corresponding card would consequently tell you where your book was located in some towering labyrinth of a library, at which point you would be required to walk, climb, kneel, and dig to find your book."

Did this take some time? Absolutely, but it was exciting to hunt down the book you needed!

8 The Three 'Rs'


Our kids are taught many of the same things our parents (and their parents before them) were taught. English, math, geography, and science were main subjects; as they are today. However, one teacher noted on Fractus Learning that children's lessons focused around the "three Rs": reading, writing, and arithmetic. "Occasionally, other subjects, such as geography or agriculture, would also be taught, depending on the teacher’s confidence and personal experience."

It appears students were taught more geographical topics that could apply to them and where they lived. Students today learn more about worldly subjects than local lifeskills.

7 Shorthand

I forgot all about shorthand writing until my mom reminded me that it was a big deal in her years of schooling.

Shorthand writing is essentially using symbols instead of words. These symbols would make it way quicker to jot something down and could also be used in the court system and with healthcare professionals.

I also remember my history teacher teaching me a few symbols when I was in high school to make note taking a little easier to understand. As beneficial as shorthand writing can be, it's not seen in many schools today. If a person wanted to learn shorthand for their profession (or simply as a hobby), they'd need to take a specific class.

6 Cursive


It's hard to believe but cursive is no longer taught in schools. As a woman who went to Catholic school in my first couple years of life, I was told to learn cursive and to learn it well. Writing in cursive was simply a quicker way of writing, and a more professional way of signing your name on important documents.

If kids are no longer learning cursive, it makes you wonder what their signatures are like. Are kids' signatures simply written in in print?

Cursive is also getting the back burner because most things are done electronically these days. Funny enough, there's a 'cursive' font people can choose to sign things.

5 Keyboard

When computers (and the Internet) were first being utilized, the population needed time to understand these electronic boxes and how to use them. As a '90s baby, many of us grew up with "keyboard" classes.

There would be one room in the school designated the "computer lab." The lab often had rows of computers where students had to enter in their own login. Once logged in, our teacher would take us on assignments via the computer to learn more. Sometimes we played math games, whereas other times we practiced typing. But schools today don't just have a keyboard class; computers are essential to life today. Most classrooms have their own computers or tablets for students and many don't need a class to learn how to use them like we did.

4 Recess Is Dwindling Away

Recess used to be a time to give our minds a break. Kids get antsy after a while and start lashing out through activity — this is why having 30-minutes to an hour of physical activity is good for a child. It tires them out a bit so the teacher can regain their focus for the rest of school.

Recess ended for many of us in high school, but I've heard from a few teachers that recess is dwindling away from middle and elementary schools.

Apparently not many parents see the benefit of recess, but The Quad notes how important it is to a child's well-being. Not only is it a chance to take a break for their schooling, but it's a chance to let off some steam, play with friends, and to find hobbies that interest them. It would be a sad world sending our kids to school knowing they didn't get at least 30 minutes of free time.

3 Woodwork

When I was in high school, we had a tech school where students would take a shuttle to and from everyday. They would learn different trades that they were more interested in than the normal curriculum. However, trade schools in my day versus them today seem to be far different. The kids who chose woodwork in my school were kids who didn't want to be taught at all. They hated school and never did their work like everyone else. But trade schools (like woodwork) today have come full circle. It's not just a place where students go to ditch English, it's a place to hone in on their craft and learn more about what they love to do; hopefully making a profession out of it. So in essence, woodwork and trade schools have progressed since our days.

2 Abacus


An abacus is a long wooden frame with pegs and movable dots that went up and down the pegs. The Quad describes it as an "instructive instrument for learning to count," that is actually still quite functional today.

The problem is that teachers have moved away from this tool and have found other methods for teaching kids how to count. However, if a teacher still had one lying around, it'd still get the job done.

The funny thing about the abacus is that it's been used by most cultures through generations. No matter if the tool was made out of wood or rope, Natives and Egyptians alike had similar tools to help with keeping track or with counting.

1 The End Goal

These days, students have the end goal of graduating, going to university, and landing a job after graduation. But back in the 1800-1900s, graduating school was all about becoming a functioning member of society; not to go to university. Only students wealthy and fortunate enough were lucky to go away to university. Others left school early to go straight to work or to start a family life.

Times sure have changed since then, because nowadays it's very difficult to find a job with anything less than an associates degree! Not to mention men and women are starting families later in life and are both concentrating on their careers first.

Resources: VictorianASCDUniversity of MichiganEducation.NEThe QuadNPRThe Best Schools

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